If you think this looks good, drop what you’re doing and get to Pizzeria Stella at 2nd and Lombard for some great pizza. Last weekend, the wife and I enjoyed lunch here: one Margherita pizza and one pepperoni. The Margherita had flowing, fresh buffalo mozzarella and a light sauce that didn’t overpower, but had great flavor. The crust was thin throughout and had the perfect mix of crispness and doughiness at the edges. The pepperoni was equally enjoyable and the small, round slices of ‘roni were just thick enough, and not too spicy. My only problem with it is that they don’t deliver and I don’t live within walking distance.
Our wonderful host, Giancarlo at Le Volpi e Luva recommended this Prosecco and we enjoyed it at his table in Florence and at ours in Philadelphia. This is a mildly crisp prosecco while light and not overly dry. My only regret is that we only brought 1 bottle home – I’ll have to find some here now…
A few weeks ago, I was in Texas and enjoying a prime strip steak alongside this classic Napa Cab. The Tamber Bey cab jumped out at me on the wine list due to it’s AVA, Vintage (2005 was an across the napa valley great year), and price. This combination on a restaurant wine list seemed unlikely, but we went for it. Since we intended to enjoy the wine with our main course (the steak!), we decanted it through our salads and it really opened up. This features ripe red fruit, hints of vanilla and a light crispness of mint or something like it. I’m now a fan and will keep my eye out for this wine in the future.
Caffe Casta Diva (227 S 20th St) has quickly become one of our favorite BYOBs in the city. The food is always fresh and very enjoyable and it’s one of the few places in the area where you can sit down for dinner at 7:30 and not feel pressured to leave until you are ready. The portions are well sized and desserts are off the charts – can’t miss Tiramisu and Cannolis. Last time we were there, we brought the Mika Winery 2004 Sonoma Meritage which was a PLCB chairman’s selection and a steal at $8.50. The description said it was a $85 bottle (which seems a bit much), but for $8.50, it was solid. Back to the restaurant – I recommend anything they’re serving. I’ve enjoyed their grilled octopus, fresh pasta, and perfectly prepared fish on the many visits. Their service is solid, but one of the rare traits is that they don’t bring you a check until you ask for it. So, if you’re going out with friends and just want to chat, you can show up at 7:30 and not leave until you want to (just bring enough wine to enjoy). The only challenge for me is that it’s close to my home and easy to go to when we’re looking for a great meal.
What happens when you have a Zin that tastes more like a cab? You’re drinking this amazing Biale Stagecoach Zinfandel. We were lucky enough to get this at the Biale vineyard when we visited Napa a few years back as there were only 600 cases produced. As the wife says (and I agree with…of course), this has ripe cherry, some mineral and a bit of sage and isn’t really zin-like, except that it’s full of flavor and deliciousness. If you’re in Napa, make an appointment, visit them and bring home some of this great stuff!
Claudio, our tour guide from Drivers Guide Service (who was wonderful by the way) suggested La Griglietta (Via Germanico, 170 00192 Roma, Italia) which has been in operation for the last 41 years by 2 brothers who run it with pride and love which is evident in the food. If you’re in Rome anytime, you should stop by and spend as much time as you have enjoying these home made specialites.
Let me start by saying that I do not generally eat artichockes or like them for that matter, but that all changed in Roma. They started with a fire roasted jerusalem artichocke which cooked for so long that the outer rings resembled baked potato chips and had the earthy flavor of the soil likely not far from our lunch.
The restaurant was relatively small and when we sat down, the waiter broke off some bread from the drawer in the cabinet to the left here. He brought us an eggplant crepe – meets pressed lasagne. I don’t know really what it was beyond perfect, and too small (I could have eaten more). He also brought peas and pancetta and a variety of croquettes stuffed with fresh mozzerella and other fresh fillings. Luckily, they left enough space for the feature dish: pasta. They really know what they’re doing on this front as they brought out homemade gnocchi and spinach ravioli in a pasta that tastes like it was just made when we ordered as it had the consistency that only a fresh noodle can. The sauce was equally good on the pasta and on every piece of fresh bread I could find to absorb it off the plate. I don’t think licking a plate in Italy is any more cooth than it is here, but the thought did cross my mind. If you’re in Rome, make sure you visit La Griglietta and give yourself the afternoon or evening to walk it off.
Last weekend, the wife and I made it to Osteria (640 N Broad St) for dinner. Beyond the fact that I’m not sure how to pronounce the name of the restaurant; is it os-teria or oster-ia? And, it’s in a in a somewhat obscure location as many people aren’t going to walk there, but rather have to take a taxi or drive. Outside of those items, the food is fantastic. We went to Vetri, the signature restaurant last year and the pasta we had at Osteria was on par with the outstanding product produced at Vetri before. We started with a bottle of the Laila Verdicchio which is a crisp white that matched our dinner nicely. The sommelier indicated that the grapes were grown near the coast and there is a briney finish: he was right! I couldn’t believe my taste buds, but I could pick that up and it was cool. (Side note is the bottle is $12 retail and is on the wine list for $42 – absurd…and the reason I love BYOBs)
Now, on to the main attraction, we started with the vegetable antipasti which was an assortment of roasted vegetables. It sounds simple, and it is, but on an ethereal level that can push anyone into loving vegetables. The dish included roasted brussels sprouts, red peppers, salt roasted golden beets, briefly grilled cucumbers, and at least one more thing I can’t remember. What a way to start the meal.
From there, we split two main courses: the Margherita pizza and a cappelletti (pasta) dish. The Pizza was perfect with a crispy, thin crust, fresh – almost sweet mozzarella and this homemade tomato sauce that I would put on anything. The pasta was a small handmade shell filled with prosciutto in a light-sweet-corn broth. The sweet, salty mix was great. As if we didn’t have enough corn, we also enjoyed the rustic polenta which was like a corn version of cream of wheat. I’m pretty neutral on the polenta.
We had a treat for dessert and enjoyed their version of a cannoli which was filled with a gelato like cream that was quite cold and had a coffee / chocolate like taste. There were 3 mini shells and was a perfect size for dessert.
We were very impressed with the food at Osteria and will certainly return. It’s at a reasonable price point and makes the Vetri quality food approachable to many more.
On our recent journey through the Mediterranean, we sampled all but three of the dining options on board which is to say a lot as there are 12 separate restaurant choices. The NCL Jade and their fleet for that matter offers Freestyle Cruising which means that you can eat when you want and with who you want – just make a reservation at the eatery of your choice and you’re set. You don’t have to eat with a bunch of strangers unless that’s your thing…
Overall, everything was well prepared, which is impressive in itself considering the volume of people served on a daily basis. The only critique overall is that some of the food was under-seasoned. Here are my favorites and opinions on each:
- Grand Pacific Main Dining Room: The Jerk Chicken was moist, flavorful and well prepared. The Vanilla Souffle was perfect AND you didn’t have to wait for 40 minutes to enjoy it.
- Alizar Main Dining Room: The Monkfish (poor man’s lobster) was cooked to perfection and had the meaty texture you want without the fishy taste. A definite winner.
- Cagney’s Steakhouse: The Wedge Salad – could have been at (insert steak chain name) steakhouse anywhere in the states: lots of blue cheese and bacon. Filet was well prepared, but the creamed spinach and gratin potatoes stole the show for me. Also, spend the additional 10 beans and get the full plate of king crab legs – that’s surf and turf!
- Le Bistro: This is really fine dining on the NCL Jade. The service is better here than anywhere else on the ship and food timing is right on the money. The cream of four mushroom soup is right there with some of the best I’ve had. The scallop appetizer was fresh and well prepared, but could have been a little larger (tasted great though). Both entrees were outstanding: the duo of duck (confit and duck breast) and Rosemary roasted pork tenderloin, but dessert as always in French restaurants stole the show: the vanilla creme brulee was HUGE and also rich in vanilla flavor with the warm, crispy, crusted sugar top.
- Paniolo Tapas & Salsa Restaurant: Ok, so no on Tapas here, but yes on Mexican/Tex-Mex. They really served bold flavors from the punchy black bean soup to well executed Fajitas. Their signature dish, Lobster Tacos are good, but a little too creamy for my taste. Overall worthwhile indeed.
- Garden Cafe: This is the main breakfast and lunch place. For breakfast, we didn’t stray much and enjoyed well prepared eggs and oatmeal. Lunch was either a juicy hamburger at the pool or roasted tandoori chicken in the cafe. The garden cafe really came to life for the chocolate buffet on the 2nd to last night of the cruise. Cupcakes to dipped champagne glasses (with champagne of course) fit the bill here.
Last week after dinner at Maverick with the Sister-In-Laws, we went to Bi-Rite Creamery for some great ice cream. I don’t eat much ice cream, but seem to do most of my ice cream consumption in the Mission in San Francisco as there are 3 outstanding ice cream shops there. This may be my favorite though. I am a mint chocolate chip fan and to say that’s my favorite flavor is an understatement. So, why I chose two flavors in my small cup on this occasion is likely due to my culinary curiosity. Needless to say, the mint chocolate chip was heavenly. I also enjoyed the Malted Vanilla with Peanut Brittle and Milk Chocolate Pieces as well. I wonder if I choose to eat dinner in the Mission/Noe Valley just so I can justify the ice cream…
On our first day of our cruise just 3 weeks ago, we elected to do the wine program on the ship (NCL Jade) which allows you to choose 6 (or more) bottles of wine at a 20% discount. These wines can be served for room service or at any restaurant/bar on the ship. We decided to splurge and opted for the Krug Champagne on the menu. It wasn’t cheap and let’s leave it at that. So, on the 5th night of the cruise, we had dinner in Le Bistro, the french restaurant on the ship (future post coming on that) and thought the Krug would be a perfect choice to accompany this cuisine. We expected to receive a NV Krug which would have been a fine bottle I’m sure. However, when the 1995 vintage arrived and list price on it is more than we paid, I was pretty psyched! Let’s just say that our price was less than the shelf price and at least half the cost it would have been in a restaurant. Once I got over that shock and actually tasted it, I didn’t know what do think. It tasted different than I expected, but was quite enjoyable. A reviewer from Wine Spectator who gave it a whopping 98 points described it as having a “multi-grain bread” taste and I completely agree. It sounds odd, but it’s really true. I’m looking forward to more splurges like this indeed!